Leanne Smith nominated to the U.S. Ski Team's women's A Team

CONWAY  — The U.S. Alpine Ski Team announced its nominations for the 2016-17 season on Tuesday, and North Conway's Leanne Smith was again named to the women's A team.

Nominations include those active athletes who qualified based on published selection criteria in the prior season.

According to the U.S. Ski Team website, "each athlete accepting the nomination to U.S. Alpine Ski Team receives a high level of world-class program support, along with access to the USSA Center of Excellence, as well as athletic benefits including an elite coaching, sport science, sports medicine and high performance staff and education opportunities."

The U.S. Ski Team nominates an A, B, C and D team for the women and men, along with a university team each summer.  An official team announcement will be made in the fall.

Leanne Smith, 29, has been on the U.S. Ski Team for nine years. The three-sport standout at Kennett High School, raced for the hometown Eagles as well as the Mt. Washington Valley Ski Team and the University of New Hampshire before making the team.

"Again plagued with (a knee) injury in 2016, Smith was out much of the season but is spending the summer in Park City working hard in the Center of Excellence gym and well on her way to recovery and being stronger than ever," the U.S. Ski Team website states. "Talk about fighter. This athlete is the definition of the word. When Smith is healthy and confident enough to put it all on the line, she’s a contender for the podium in every race she starts. Look out for her in 2017, when her Live Free or Die Granite State mentality will be back in the start gate."

Smith has represented the United States at the last two Winter Olympics on the 2010 and 2014 teams. She was 18th in the Super G in Sochi, Russia in 2014, and was 18th in the same event in 2010 in Vancouver, Canada, where she was also 21st in the super combined (combines one run each of slalom and downhill).

The U.S. downhill champion in 2010, Smith landed on the podium in two World Cup races in 2013. She was 13th overall in the downhill at the world championships in Austria in 2013.

Joining Smith on the A Team women's roster are Stacey Cook, 32, of Mammoth Mountain, Calif.; Julia Mancuso, 32, of Squaw Valley, Calif.; Alice McKennis, 26, of Glenwood Springs, Colo.; Laurenne Ross, 28 of Bend, Ore.; Mikaela Shiffrin, 21, of Eagle-Vail, Colo.; Resi Stiegler, 30, of Jackson, Wyo.; and Lindsey Vonn, 31, of Vail, Colo.

Franconia's Bode Miller, 38, was again named to the men's A team along with David Chodounsky, 32, of Crested Butte, Colo.; Travis Ganong, 28, of Squaw Valley, Calif.; Tim Jitloff, 31, of Reno, Nev.; Ted Ligety, 31, of Park City, Utah; Steven Nyman, 34, of Sundance, Utah; and Andrew Weibrecht, 30, of Lake Placid, N.Y.

To be eligible for nomination to the A Team, athletes must have at least one top 25 World Cup placing in either downhill, slalom, GS or Super G.

 

Locke's velocity was down, but still beat the A's

By Stephen J. Nesbitt

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

OAKLAND, Calif. — There was one out and two runs already in when pitching coach Ray Searage trudged to the pitcher's mound in the first inning Friday at Oakland Alameda Coliseum. The first few pitches from left-hander Jeff Locke had portended poorly for the Pirates. He had walked the leadoff batter, and handed two home runs — one foul, the other fair — to the next.

"That's not the way we wanted to start the game, that's for sure," said Locke, a 2006 Kennett High graduate. "But you can't quit."

Backed by an offense that came from behind for a 7-3 win against the Oakland Athletics, Locke delivered five innings of three-run baseball when nothing more was needed. He handed the baseball to the bullpen, and three trusty relievers extended the bullpen's scoreless streak to 24 2/3 innings. Locke (8-5) won his third game in a row and tied his 2015 win total.

The Pirates (39-41) were anchored in the series opener by the back half of their lineup. Their first four batters were a combined 1 for 16. The final five were 7 for 18 with two walks and six RBIs.

Jordy Mercer began the comeback march by cracking a fastball from right-hander Sonny Gray off the cement staircase beyond the left-field wall for a solo home run. Mercer later added an RBI single. Josh Harrison and Matt Joyce also had two hits apiece.

"June was hard, top to bottom," manager Clint Hurdle said after his team closed the book on a 9-19 month to welcome July with a win. "We've started showing signs of coming out of it."

Prior to Friday, Locke had a 2.96 ERA at home, and a 7.36 road ERA. The latter number got worse before it got better, as the Athletics scored three times in the first two innings with Locke fighting his fastball. Locke's velocity was down, and he admitted early on he was guiding his pitches, testing the waters rather than attacking. He stayed in the hunt and found a groove. The Athletics managed just four hits in the game, and only one after the second inning.

In five innings, Locke allowed three hits and three runs. He walked three and struck out there.

"By no means was the performance today good enough," Locke said, "... but it was good enough today."

To Hurdle, Locke's ability to shake off the sideways start and end strong showed his maturity.

"He didn't have his 'A' game," Hurdle said. "It might have been his 'B' game."

Locke had won six of eight starts prior to Friday, and the success largely was predicated on his command. He issued only one walk total in the six wins. So it was a bad sign when he walked Jed Lowrie leading off the first, then went to a full count in a long battle with Marcus Semien.

The 11th pitch Semien saw was sent toward the wall in left-center field. Andrew McCutchen gave chase and leaped at the wall, but he was left hanging there as the baseball dropped out of view. The swift two-run deficit plus a second walk brought Searage for an early talk.

"He wanted to come out and break up the pace," Locke said. "And maybe bring some good fortunes."

The Athletics added another run in the second when Lowrie doubled home Yonder Alonso, who had bunted for a single. Locke's pitch count was 35 after one inning, 54 after two and 72 after three, but he sent down the last nine batters in order to stay through five innings.

"You can't quit out there," Locke said. "There have definitely been times in my career when I feel like I've quit. Now that I'm older, more mature, you've got to keep going until the manager comes and takes it from you. The guys behind you aren't going to quit."

As Locke's innings got shorter, Gray's got longer. Harrison said he felt momentum shift.

"We knew we were in a fight early," Hurdle added. "We just kept scratching."

 

Andrew McCutchen homers twice, Jeff Locke starts strong in 6-1 win over Dodgers

By Stephen J. Nesbitt

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Did the real Andrew McCutchen just stand up?

McCutchen, mired in the worst first half of his career, slugged a pair of home runs off Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Kenta Maeda in the Pirates' 6-1 win Saturday at PNC Park. His 11th and 12th home runs this season drove in four runs, marking his first multiple-RBI game since May 29. The 2-for-5 night raised McCutchen's sluggish batting average four points to .243.

"He's going to get to somebody sooner or later," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Doesn't matter who."

Left-hander Jeff Locke carried a perfect game into the sixth, and Jordy Mercer provided extra cushion with a two-run homer in a five-run sixth as the Pirates won their second game in a row against the Dodgers (41-35). The Pirates (36-39) had not won on consecutive days since May 26 and 27. They did, however, sweep a doubleheader June 7.

For three innings, the starters' only hiccup was Maeda opening the game with four-pitch walk of John Jaso. Maeda relies on his off-speed arsenal to fool hitters. They looked fooled. McCutchen struck out on three pitches in the first. Maeda's string of outs preceding McCutchen's return to bat in the fourth went strikeout-strikeout-groundout-strikeout.

Then Maeda made a mistake. He went 3-0 on a more patient McCutchen, then ran the count full. The seventh pitch was a curveball, and McCutchen buried it 20 rows deep in left field. The game's first hit produced the first run.

In the five-run sixth, Maeda fell back on old habits. His first folly was again walking Jaso on four pitches. His second was again starting 3-0 on McCutchen, whose second homer was delivered via a middle-in 92 mph fastball he smashed over the wall in left-center field for a three-run homer.

"What felt right? For starters, that Adele walk-up song felt real good," McCutchen said. "Then, everything after that."

McCutchen recently debuted Adele's "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)" as his walk-up tune. He likes its up-beat vibe, which he called "a changeup" from the artist Adele.

"If y'all don't like Adele, y'all don't like Christmas," McCutchen said. "Everybody loves Adele. ... I rock with that song. I did Taylor Swift last year. Why not rock with Adele, too? Hey, I'm going to stay with it."

McCutchen said it was helpful to see his recent work paying off, since "if you go 0 for 100, it ain't helping." He's dealt with a thumb injury and has been reworking his mechanics in an effort to find consistency at the plate.

"It was only a matter of time," Locke, a 2006 Kennett High graduate, said. "There's no quit in Andrew. "Of course things haven't been going the way he'd like them to at this point in the season. But there's no quit in Andrew.

"Maybe it was a little coming-out party for him tonight."

Locke, the lone two-time New Hampshire Player of the Year, of late has been hard to pin down. His past six starts are pairs of strong starts sandwiched around two horrific outings in which he allowed 18 runs over 8 2/3 innings — Hurdle called them "games you wouldn't wish on anybody at this level." Last Monday, Locke tossed 6 2/3 scoreless innings to defeat San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner.

Locke (7-5) has four of the Pirates' past eight wins. He allowed five hits and a run over seven innings. He struck out three and, for the second start in a row, walked no one. He struck out Scott Van Slyke with runners in scoring position for his final out and pumped his fists.

"Uncharacteristic of me," Locke said. "I was excited."

Locke's unlikely bid for a perfect game lasted 15 outs. The mystery was smashed in the sixth by back-back doubles off the bats of Van Slyke — son of former Pirates center fielder Andy Van Slyke — and A.J. Ellis. A smart pickoff by catcher Erik Kratz caught Ellis in a rundown, so he wasn't around to score on Maeda's sharp single to right.

Jordy Mercer's two-run home run off former Pirates reliever Joe Blanton in the sixth extended his hitting streak to 10 games and extended the Pirates' lead to 6-1.

The Pirates played sterling defense behind Locke, placed impeccably in infield shifts, but Sean Rodriguez's throwing error in the ninth ended the Pirates' errorless streak at 105 innings, their longest such streak since going 112 frames without an error in 2007.

Stephen J. Nesbitt: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.

 

Gracie Ryan places 18th at nationals in triple jump

WAVERLY, Iowa — Sophomore Grace Ryan of the Ithaca College women's track & field team wrapped up the 2016 NCAA Division III Outdoor Championships for the Bombers recently at Wartburg College.

Ithaca finished the championships with 20 team points, which tied the program for eighth overall. It is the second-best placement for the Bombers at the outdoor championships in school history.

Ryan took 18th in the triple jump with a top mark of 11.31 meters (37 feet, 1.25 inches). Her next two jumps measured 11.12 meters and 10.85 meters, but she did not qualify for the championship round.

A journalism major, she is the daughter of George and Madeleine Ryan.

A 2014 graduate of Kennett High School, Ryan earned four varsity letters for both indoor and outdoor track & field. She was a three-time All-State Triple Jump Division II Champion, and a 2014 All-State High Jump Runner-Up. Ryan was also a member of the field hockey and volleyball teams.

 

Locke bests Bumgarner in pitching duel

By Stephen J. Nesbitt

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

PITTSBURGH — That the Jeff Locke-led Pirates defeated left-hander Madison Bumgarner, 1-0, in a series opener Monday night was surprising. The San Francisco Giants ace, after all, had not lost a game since April 20, and the Pirates had not won any of their previous five games, and only one of 11.

That the difference in the game was a solo shot from light-hitting catcher Erik Kratz? Shocking.

But the unlikely pitcher-catcher battery of Locke and Kratz, thrust into starter duties by injuries to Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart, bought the Pirates a win they so desperately needed. Locke tossed 6⅔ scoreless innings, with five hits and no walks, and Kratz's fifth-inning homer that snuck over the left-field wall snapped his 0-for-16 slump since joining the Pirates.

"We needed that game," Locke said. "The way we've been playing ball lately hasn't been to our expectations."

The Pirates (34-36) touched down at Pittsburgh International Airport at 2:40 a.m. Monday after a disheartening sweep in Chicago that put the Cubs 12½ games ahead in the National League Central Division — the second-largest lead at this point in the season since the divisional era began in 1969.

Locke improved to 6-5 on the season. He snapped a two-game personal losing skid, and lowered his earned run average to 5.44.

At home at PNC Park, there was a brief players-only meeting before the series opener. It was "team stuff," Locke explained. Manager Clint Hurdle had prodded the team, "Do you want to believe the first eight weeks of the season, or do you want to believe the last three?" They believed the former.

"This year, our emphasis was we wanted to come out of the gate hotter than we have in the past," Locke said. "But no one mentioned we were going to have a June like we've had."

Not only did Locke have a poor track record in this matchup, with a 9.42 ERA in three previous starts against the Giants, he also was coming off two disastrous starts. He allowed 20 hits and 18 earned runs over 8⅔ innings in those outings. He certainly didn't look like a stopper.

But he strung together zeroes against the Giants (44-27), a team that came to town riding a 27-8 run, and slew the giant Bumgarner. Locke was lifted after allowing a two-out double to Jarrett Parker in the seventh, and Neftali Feliz, Tony Watson and Mark Melancon did the rest.

"I seem to throw pretty well when I don't walk anybody," Locke said.

Bumgarner, a three-time World Series champ, carried an 8-2 record and 1.91 ERA into the contest. He pitched all eight innings, allowing five hits and two walks, striking out eight.

Bumgarner had sent down six hitters in a row when Kratz stepped to the plate with two outs in the fifth. The left-hander left a fastball on the inner half, and Kratz yanked it down the left-field line. He left the batter's box dejected and tossed away his bat, thinking he had just missed it.

Left fielder Angel Pagan gave a hard chase toward the corner and leaped to commit the robbery. At first, he had the baseball. He knew it, as did the fans near the left-field foul pole. But when he banged against the wall the ball popped loose and fell into the first row.

Pagan dropped back to the warning track and threw his glove to the dirt. It was a 1-0 ballgame.

"I was upset," Kratz said, recalling his reaction. "Then I heard the crescendo of the crowd, looked up and he was spiking his glove. I knew he either had a touchdown or an alley-oop."

The home run was Kratz's first in the majors since Aug. 18, 2014. It was only his third hit in 47 at-bats this year, which has been spent with three teams, and his only hit so far with the Pirates.